An Artist of the Floating World is a nice pleasant read Although Ishiguro had not lived through this period and lives in England, he evokes the languid rhythms of life in post war Japan with panache His protagonist addresses the reader in the second person over the entire book, telling us of his career as a propagandistic artist of pre war Imperial Japan and his retirement There is a marked similarity between Oji and the protagonist of The Remains of the Day, in that each had acted in morally ambiguous ways based on belief and their actions indirectly led to the atrocities of WWII in the two different theaters of Europe and Asia Ishiguro invokes the Edo period of Tokyo although the city is never named directly and the destruction of the pleasure district in rounded, sensual tones just as the art of Ukiyo E did The protagonist was, in fact, trained as a traditional painter before being seduced by dreams of modern Japan led him to political painting This had an adverse affect on his life particularly his relationships after the war The image on page 77 of the painter seeing his old protege Kuroda in the ruins of the post war city and how a truck going by between them , full of building workers is symbolic of this vast distance that his political stance put between him and his former master and students This is an interesting and well written book and if you are interested in this period, check out Kafu the Scribbler by Siedensticker which is about a real Japanese writer that would have been similar to Mori san in the book. . An Alternate Cover For This ISBN Can Be Found HereIn The Face Of The Misery In His Homeland, The Artist Masuji Ono Was Unwilling To Devote His Art Solely To The Celebration Of Physical Beauty Instead, He Put His Work In The Service Of The Imperialist Movement That Led Japan Into World War II Now, As The Mature Ono Struggles Through The Aftermath Of That War, His Memories Of His Youth And Of The Floating World The Nocturnal World Of Pleasure, Entertainment, And Drink Offer Him Both Escape And Redemption, Even As They Punish Him For Betraying His Early Promise Indicted By Society For Its Defeat And Reviled For His Past Aesthetics, He Relives The Passage Through His Personal History That Makes Him Both A Hero And A Coward But, Above All, A Human Being Ishiguro is at his absolute best when he is exploring pain He takes mundane characters, ordinary people, and demonstrates how the present is perpetually pervaded by the past.Memories shape us and, in some ways, define who we are There is no moving away from them, no matter how hard we might try And that s what makes most of his stories so compelling, the human struggle is something he evokes in all its bitterness yet, here he failed Normally when I pick up one of his novels I am drawn straight into the narrative immediately I can t think of a time other than this book where I wasn t immediately invested I don t always appreciate the outcome of his stories, Never Let Me Go for example, though I have always been gripped by his words very early on Here there was just a certain lack of plot or any sense of direction Had I picked this book up without knowing who had written it, I would never have guessed it was Ishiguro A retired painter is looking back at his life He is moping in his home and doesn t spend much time trying to shape the present, as such the story suffers It is slow, monotonous and rather colourless He has no passion for his life or his family He is just existing rather than living He is the family patriarch, though his family, a situation quite unusual by the standards of Japanese culture, treat him like a little child He has nothing left No life No spark No energy All of which reflects in the dry narrative He just seems to get on with life because he has to though there is nothing in his story to suggest a reason for such a resignation Perhaps I expect too much from Ishiguro I ve read his later works and I know how fantastic he is at writing This is one of his earlier books, and of course it would not display the same sense of skill, but I do expect certain things A Pale View of Hills was his first book, and although it was far from perfect, it was far developed than this The characters were intriguing and the plot was actually going places This was the exact opposite It has nothing and I can only rate it very low So this is a book by a writer who can do so much better I would not recommend picking it up and instead go for When We Were Orphans or The Remains of the Day. If you ve already read The Remains of the Day, chances are your enjoyment of An Artist of the Floating World will be greatly curtailed And that is the sheer tragedy of this book.Replace Stevens with Masuji Ono Replace a tottering England with a war ravaged, financially unstable Japan and insert Ishiguro s penchant for allegory And TADA you have An Artist of the Floating World.This book had potential to be a very emotionally charged commentary on a nation rebuilding itself from its charred atomic bombed remains and reflecting on the flawed ideologies of its notorious past.But instead it felt like a curious combination of The Remains of the Day and A Pale View Of Hills with little improvisation thrown in If in TRotD, Stevens laments living a life devoted to serving a Nazi sympathizing, Jew hating Lord with unquestioning loyalty, in AAotFW, Ono san experiences feelings of profound guilt for having created paintings supporting the war and Imperial jingoism We see Ono repeatedly trying to convince himself that his ideals were not at fault and he only did what his feelings of patriotism obviously misguided inspired him to, at the time.But at the fag end of the narrative, Ono comes to terms with hismistakesand even ends up offering an unsolicited apology to his daughter s father in law at her miai marriage interview session in Japanese TranslationIshiguro virtually makes Japan get down on its knees and apologize to the world for all its crimes against humanity The evanescent night life of the pleasure district that Ono san uses as a theme for his paintings is actually a symbol of a floating , hesitant Japan about to turn over a new leaf I cannot exactly put my finger on the things I did not find particularly appealing about this book Maybe it s the matter of fact tone of Ono s narrative voice which will tend to annoy the reader at some point Maybe it s the lack of a shadow of grief or an air of melancholy that pervaded the atmosphere of TRotD and A Pale View of Hills Maybe it s the glaring similarities with TRotD Or maybe it s the Booker nominated writer Tan Twan Eng saying in an interview how he reads this book at least once every year which caused me to have really high expectations.I had assumed, a book ought to have created an exceptionally powerful impact for it to be Eng s all time favorite But I guess as a Malaysian national, he must have strong sentiments associated with any book that so much as touches upon the topic of Japan s shameful past as colonial master of most of east south east Asia.So my advice for the uninitiated will be Read Ishiguro s works in order or at least read this one before reading The Remains of the Day. An Auction of PrestigeHarold Bloom in his 1975 book A Map of Misreading recast literary history as a record of the struggle between the son and his literary father it has frequently been pointed out that Bloom is than a bit sexist in his expression Through a Kabbalah like misinterpretation of one s literary forebears, Bloom believed, a writer both builds on and destroys the work he admires most This provokes a sort of anxiety in the writer, a struggle of wit and language with one s mentors which results in both creative new work, and a re creation of the old.Ishiguro s book is an example of the process, extended to fine art and from the perspective of the mentor being misinterpreted The fact that the book is set in the very restricted cultural location and time of Japan in the immediate post war years seems, paradoxically, to generalise Bloom s idea not just to painting but also to the broader culture in which artistic effort is embedded.Masuji Ono is an artist of his time, a man of tradition and set ways, a man of polite formalities, and devoted to the importance of history but also to hard drinking and male loyalties He has a patriarchal view of society which, although liberal than his parents , nonetheless borders on the misogynistic Like almost all Japanese of the period, he was a nationalist who responded to the war and its aims enthusiastically.The physical losses resulting from the war are of course traumatic Masuji s son and wife have been killed his house damaged and his neighbourhood destroyed But the spiritual trauma proves just as distressing From being a pillar of the artistic community, he is now not simply old but old hat Western s are undermining traditions and family relationships as well as artistic fashions His pre war loyalties are now suspect The central event of the story, as in Masuji Ibuse s Black Rain, is the betrothal of his daughter Marriage is still a highly formalised and negotiated affair Yet these negotiations take place in a world that has changed radically and it is unclear if either his parental skills or his art are adequate to their respective tasks In Black Rain the issue is the physical purity of a woman after exposure to radiation from an atomic blast In Ishiguro s narrative the issue is also one of purity, but of a much subtle familial purity involving Masuji s war time activities In both cases the opinions of others must be investigated minutely in order to reach a settlement.According to Bloom, in a very Freudian manner the artistic son, by working through his own anxiety, gives birth to his father, or accurately a re birth in a new cultural oeuvre This involves the son overcoming both the history of respect and the resentment they go together for the father But for Ishiguro this process also demands an awareness by the father of his past dominance and faults inflicted upon the son and a recognition of a need for forgiveness For Ishiguro, the son and father give birth to one another simultaneously through a sort of inverted auction of prestige only by subverting one s reputation and personal pride to those of the other is creative reconciliation possible This dynamic applies as much to generations as to individuals As a by product, it removes art entirely from the domain of economics, that is, of self interest Ishiguro suggests that this process of inter generational reconciliation is what makes true art It is a process that unites not just artists but an entire culture, creating not just solidarity but also an openness to the new and foreign This is the way in which art transcends the eponymous floating world of transient appearance, fashion, and reputation.I have no idea whether Ishiguro is familiar with Bloom s theory of literary development But, if so, he certainly has re invented that theory by appropriately misreading it in this captivating book. There s such much drama in nothing at all That s the genius of Ishiguro here and in his masterpiece Remains of the Day, the actual plot is that nothing happens, and it s fuckin gripping.Masuji Ono is an artist During World War II he ended up on the wrong team he arted up some propaganda, and now that Japan s lost the war he is embarrassing His reputation has crashed Maybe his daughter s impending marriage will be called off, if the family discovers some of his disgraceful former attitudes He wonders His other daughter throws passive aggressive shade at him PropagandaHe s an unreliable narrator, another thing in common with Remains. Not a big flashy unreliable narrator, like I was the killer all along It s delicate, and Ishiguro is brilliant at this, quietly insinuating that the words on your page shouldn t be trusted Ono s unreliable the same way that you are an unreliable narrator of your own life You sometimes get it wrong You ve been better or worse than you thought I mean, you, particularly, you ve definitely been better, you re great Certain other people have, frankly, been dicks.Ono has been a dick How much of a dick He meanders as he narrates, jumping around, prewar, war, postwar In the end view spoiler nothing happens His betrayal of his own protege to the Committee of Unpatriotic Activities goes unpunished His daughter gets married He pauses at the Bridge of Hesitation, on the way to the pleasure district, to consider a similarly disgraced colleague who committed suicide after the war Then he wanders on Near the end of the book, his daughter changes her story You realize I had to have it explained to me that she s trying to keep him from committing suicide It wasn t so bad, she says The marriage was never in jeopardy No one cares what you did during the war hide spoiler , Rereading this novel I felt that the award of the 2017 Nobel prize for Literature to Ishiguro was a very safe choice.In one way Ishiguro s books are not very interesting, the narrator might be unreliable or limited, there is a concern for memory and the role of a creative intelligence in understanding and reinterpreting the past, there are issues of guilt and responsibility, and love And one can find these elements in book after book But he is deft and clever, a safe choice for the nobel prize, his stories might even invite a careful reconsideration of the award decisions and the motivations of Alfred Nobel.At a certain point reading I was almost hurt to acknowledge that the book was only 206 pages long, how could that be, the sense of the mental space that the book demands of the reader is far greater, not in an obnoxious way, no he is an insidious writer, one doesn t notice the soft mist rising from the pages, one can not discern the moment that one becomes lost on a familiar path.Putting down the book and letting the mind wander and wonder a bit images seem open to continual reinterpretation, the reader mirrors the narrator trying to find some sense in the situation, but perhaps I must not take my mind s work too seriously the title is An artist of the Floating World, the floating world was the ephemeral existence of bars, of professional entertainers, boozy talk and dim, cosy lighting, certain artists attempted to capture the fleeting emotions and atmosphere perhaps the melancholy of a prostitute and her transitory beauty, as it happens the narrator was not an Artist of the Floating World, but his Master was, the narrator at some point turns his back on that in favour of painting posters promoting nationalism and expansionism, Japan s place as Imperial super power over Asia a man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something than ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if in the end he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions p.134 The novel is divided into four unequal sections, each identified with a little time stamp, from October 1948 to June 1950 So one can see that the bright world of Imperialism, has turned out to be brittle and itself was a kind of floating world, melancholy in retrospect, the war dead haunt the pages, and when not those who died then the guilt and culpability of the survivors Bright suicides slice into the narrative, of company directors, of a composer of militant songs, might it be the narrator s duty to apologise in such a manner and to so accept his share of responsibility, and if so responsibility for what preciselyBut these are the men who led the country astray, sir Surely, it s only right they should acknowledge their responsibility It s a cowardice that these men refuse to admit to their mistakes And when those mistakes were made on behalf of the whole country, why then it must be the greatest cowardice of allp.56 The smell of burning wafts in, two, three times, finally the burning after air raids, but and this is the thing with his writing the smell carries us back to earlier instances of burning, of another s artist s anti war work, of the narrator s own childhood drawings by his father, were might we begin and end the chains of responsibility and causality Burning suggests not so much the possibility of the roads not taken, but of potential lives that were absolutely and decisively closed off for the narrator, but maybe this too is a way of subtly avoiding responsibilityIn any case, there is surely no great shame in mistakes made in the best of faith It is surely a thing far shameful to be unable or unwilling to acknowledge themp.125 Can we even be certain about the harm we have caused, and when we have can we expiate that harm, do penance in some meaningful way Can we talk about it to the next generation And to the next The narrator takes his grandson to the cinema to watch Godzilla, the grandson projects his fears on to his aunt and shows bravado the boy doth protest too much by laughing at the cinema poster, but in the darkness he has at age seven, enough self knowledge to sit with his raincoat over his head Has his grandfather gone through life with his own raincoat over his head, is throwing a raincoat over one s head and ignoring the Godzilla in the room, the best way in fact of dealing with the immediate past when perhaps everybody was guilty and at the end of the day appropriate marriages still have to be arranged between the young people, and the old men have to feed the carp It was worth reading twice, and puts The Chrysanthemum and the Sword in the shade for me old reviewThis impressive novel set in the aftermath of WWII in Japan Ishiguro creates a sense of stillness and normalcy around his narrator who comes across as an elderly but genial artist Things happen around the narrator that seem inexplicable the breakdown of his younger daughter s engagement, the loss of long standing friendships The outside world seems oddly strange But as the narrator reflects on his life and his current troubles as readers we slowly begin to realise that the narrator s experiences are entirely explicable since slowly the extent of his committed engagement both personally and as an artist in the politics and ideology of pre 1945 Japan becomes clear. Second reading The gist of this novel is the narrator s culpability for his patriotic actions during the war with the U.S Set in a suburb of Tokyo during the American occupation, the narrator, Masuji Ono, is now surrounded by those who blame him for Japan s disastrous gamble on war and those like himself Ono s generation was that of the old men cheerleading for war And there can be no question about his complicity In his youth he trained as an artist of the demimonde or floating world, but turned to graphic propaganda during the war His work was responsible for motivating untold thousands of young Japanese men to throw their lives away Here s the rub though Ono in the end was nothing than a patriot I agree that nationalism is abhorrent and that he was on the wrong side of history But really it was Ono s misfortune, as it was Japan s, to be so catastrophically led It strikes me as absurd that those around him berate and belittle him There is even the suggestion by his eldest daughter that he do the honorable thing and commit seppuku, literally, stomach cutting , as a means of cleansing the family name and clearing the way for the younger daughter s marriage negotiations Reading the book I was reminded of how U.S soldiers were treated when they returned from Vietnam Ono was a combatant, no question But it s really those around him him who ve changed since the defeat, not Ono himself Also read Ishiguro s The Remains of the Day, A Pale View of Hills and When We Were Orphans.I believe Ishiguru s model here may have been Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese Nobelist An Artist of the Floating World reminds me in some ways of Kawabata s The Old Capital I wish I had time to compare and contrast.
Kazuo Ishiguro or is a British novelist of Japanese origin and Nobel Laureate in Literature 2017 His family moved to England in 1960 Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor s degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Master s from the University of East Anglia s creative writing course in 1980 He became a British citizen in 1982 He now lives in London.His first novel, A Pale
- 208 pages
- An Artist of the Floating World
- Kazuo Ishiguro
- 01 November 2017 Kazuo Ishiguro